Archive for January, 2011

27th January
written by Randy

It’s 2011 now, and with the exception of the two states I missed, I’m done with my 50-states challenge. But even though I’m currently in Italy, working on a new travel goal, I want to back up and share some things I learned in my experience of seeing the US.

Traveling carless

Transportation is usually well managed from airports. In cities with mass-transit rail systems, there is almost always a train available from the airport to downtown. I’ve used such transit opportunities in Chicago, New York, Portland, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and (with the help of a free shuttle bus) Los Angeles. It’s my understanding that this is also possible in Atlanta, Boston, and Washington DC, though I haven’t used these.

In most other cities, there are city buses available at the airport and usually leading to some sort of a downtown bus transit center. I’ve used these in Little Rock, Oklahoma City, and Las Vegas, but city buses are generally perceived in the US as the domain of the poor and/or low-class, so they’re usually dirty, smelly, and often in a state of poor repair.

When using public transportation — especially buses — I’ve found I was often limited in what parts of the city I could reach, and what hours the tranportation runs, which can be a problem when it comes to reaching a hotel. Fortunately most hotels provide complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport, so after you’re done exploring downtown, just get back on the bus or train and go back to the airport… then call the hotel and have them pick you up for free!

Sometimes you need a car

There is still a lot of the US that simply can’t be reached by planes, trains, or buses. Sometimes there is no alternative to renting a car, that that isn’t always a bad thing!

With a rental car, it’s possible to see all of New England in one three-day weekend, if you pick up a rental car at the airport in Manchester and drive in a circle. Likewise, you can get a car in Salt Lake City and drive in a much bigger circle to see most of the west in one week.

When planning each trip, I used Google Maps to draw routes through several cities in several states, and form my plan. Often, you can find cities near each other at the edges of two or three states, perhaps with only an hour or less between them. You can cover a lot of ground in one weekend with a rental car if you plan it right!


Obviously, the more you’re on the move, the less time you have to spend in hotels, which allows you to keep costs down. If you’ve rented a car and really want to keep the budget low, you can sleep in the car at a rest area on the highway. Or, in a pinch, you can safely park in a Wal-Mart parking lot to sleep overnight without being disturbed. I didn’t resort this during my journeys this year, but I’ve done both in the past.

When keeping hotel costs down, perhaps the best tool I’ve had at my disposal this year was the Priceline app on my iPod. If I’ve got a rental car, I usually go for the option with the lowest price. If I’m using public transportation, I usually browse for listings with the word “airport” in them.

Couchsurfing is another option that could serve to reduce or eliminate hotel costs for your 50-states journey. But I have never used it and can’t speak to its effectiveness.


I actually did a large amount of my traveling after having made the decision to get rid of my cell phone, so I was completely disconnected most of the time. But when it came to finding hotels, attractions, and directions, there was rarely any need to worry.

At almost half of the airports I’ve been through, I was able to get online with my iPod or iPad for free. The rest offer Wi-Fi at a cost, but I refuse to pay. On highways and in most cities, you can find free Wi-Fi at any McDonalds or Starbucks location. Most coffee shops provide internet access. And on several occasions, I’ve actually parked my rental car outside of a hotel, and used their free Wi-Fi for a few minutes to find what I needed.

What to see? Where to eat? What to do?

It’s not hard to think of something to do in New York, or Washington DC, or Hollywood, but what do you do when you’re in Little Rock? What is there to see in San Antonio? Where should you eat in Portland?

Whenever I travel to a new city, there are two things I look at before anything else. Flavor Town USA has an interactive map which plots every episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and has proven to be an excellent tool for finding good eats. And 43 Places lists several popular sights worth visiting in any state or city. Often, just visiting those two sites will give you enough to plan your visit in a particular state.

And if you use 43Places, you can also easily keep track of your travel progress, and see what you’ve done and how much you’ve got left. What more could you ask for?

Hotel keys
22nd January
written by Randy

For the past 10 years, I have made my living as a programmer, and a damn good one. I’ve stayed familiar with current technologies and I have only accepted job offers from companies where I could grow and move forward, rather than sit and stagnate in old, comfortable skills.

Since the introduction of the iPhone, it was obvious that the world was changing, and as a programmer, it was never unclear how that would affect me. But what’s interesting is how slow actual businesses are to move toward what’s new, and how much slower developers are to learn those things.

It’s a catch-22. Businesses want their apps developed by people with experience building apps. Developers want their companies to give them that experience. Nobody gets ahead.

Today, it’s not just the iPhone. Today, we have the iPod and the iPad, and even AppleTV is using iOS. Who knows what will be next? The time is now. I need to have this skill, whether it’s for the purpose of getting a job somewhere else, or just for the sake of earning money from the sales of my own app.

Therefore, my fifth yearly challenge for 2011 is to put in the time, learn what I need to learn, do the work, make an app, and have it published on Apple’s App Store.

This involves more than just learning the language and APIs for iOS, it also includes becoming a registered developer, learning the ins-and-outs of the app store, and generating attention. Success in this will be measured by making an actual sale.

Now, it seems the first thing I need to do is figure out what kind of app the world needs…

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17th January
written by Randy

I have never been a good runner. In fact, I’ve never enjoyed running. In my early teens, we had to participate in the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge, some kind of fitness test that was conducted twice a year among students to encourage them to be healthier. The activities included chin-ups, stretching/flexibility, and running.

The first time I ever ran the mile, I was tired after one lap (one quarter mile), and utterly exhausted after the second, leaving me walking the last half. I came in with an embarrassing time somewhere over 12 minutes. The second time, I was able to get under 10.

The following year, I practiced running every day for a few weeks leading up to the big day, and I finished with a very acceptable 6-minute mile. It felt like a real accomplishment for me.

I also hated it. And since that year running was no longer a requirement, and I never bothered with it again. That was almost 20 years ago. Since then, in spite of the fact that I do enjoy walking a lot, I don’t think I have ever run one full mile.

I know people who love running. I have friends who enjoy it. I’ve had several coworkers who do it every chance they get. Some who love to compete in marathons. They get a high from running. What I’m saying is, these are people who can do something that I can not do.

And I don’t like that.

I believe I can do anything. I honestly, truly do. When we’re children, people tell us we can grow up to be anything, and we can do anything we put our minds to, and I believed that. Over the years, many people allowed life to beat that idea out of their heads, but it didn’t work on me — I still believe I can do anything and be anything.

However, I can’t hold that belief and then also look at the people around me, jealous of the fact that they can do something I can not. And as an alpha male, I’m not very good at deference.

So this year, I am going to run a marathon. In the course of one year — actually, less — I am going to transform myself from a person who hates running into a person capable of running 26 miles. I’ve registered for the Columbus Marathon on October 16th.

Without a doubt, completing this goal will result in a few other benefits as well. I expect that the increased cardiovascular activity should be good for my overall health. The extreme extent to which I’ll have to train should be the perfect cure for those last few nagging pounds I haven’t been able to shake. And there is sure to be a huge benefit in the form of mental strength.

I’ve faced a lot of big, scary things in my life, and I’ve taken on a lot of big challenges… but I have to admit that this one is the most intimidating yet. I hope I will succeed!

12th January
written by Randy

You probably already know that one of my goals every year is to learn a new language. This is something I’m particularly passionate about, and I deal with the topic more specifically on my language blog Yearlyglot, where I give tips about learning, share what I’ve learned, and update on my progress.

So here, I won’t go into all the details of how to learn a language, I’ll just be giving brief updates on my progress to learn a new language this year… and the language I have chosen to learn in 2011 is Turkish.

Choosing to learn a foreign language is a big task to undertake, and if you don’t have a strong interest in what you’re doing, you can’t be successful. I don’t just randomly choose languages for the sake of learning languages. I don’t want to waste my time learning something I’ll never use, and if the day ever arrives that there’s no new language that I want/need to use, my time as a “yearlyglot” will be done.

So… why did I choose Turkish? I chose for several reasons:

  • First, I really enjoyed my short visit to Uzbekistan last year. I took a great liking to Central Asia, and would love to visit more. Several Central Asian countries speak languages which are variants of Turkish, so knowing Turkish (the most prominent Turkic language) will make it easier to understand the rest of those languages.
  • I also have known several Turkish friends over the years, and would enjoy communicating with them in their language, as they do with me in mine.
  • I’m going to prove out a brand new language learning theory this year, and in order to get fair results, I needed to choose a language unlike any I already know, in order to avoid putting my results into question.
  • I want to visit Turkey! I think Turkish food is my favorite food on earth, and I know that Turkey has several beautiful vacation destinations, especially popular among Russians. Speaking Turkish would make me far more comfortable visiting this interesting place.
  • I enjoy the sounds of Turkish music, and I would love to know what they’re singing about!

So, that’s why I’ve chosen Turkish. I’m really looking forward to the end of this year, when I will (hopefully!) be a fluent Turkish speaker, and maybe even a trip to Istanbul next January!

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7th January
written by Randy

I’ve always had a tendency toward minimalism and reduction of personal possessions, but as a human there is still a tendency to want to keep what’s yours, and as an American it’s all too common to buy things.

My last week of 2010 — from Christmas to New Year’s Eve — was spent packing and moving to an apartment almost exactly one-half of the size of the one I was in, and that experience was a painful lesson in how much stuff you think you have versus how much you actually have.

Whether it’s clothes I don’t wear any more, or electronics I don’t use any more, or books, or equipment for hobbies for which I no longer have time, the bottom line is that there is a lot here that I don’t need to keep and didn’t need to move. And I don’t need it in my life.

The idea of owning 100 items or less is well-known among internet minimalist bloggers, so it’s a good place to start. I have a feeling that my target might change a bit as the year wears on, because the definition of a “thing” is different for everyone. Most people count all the accessories for an item with that item. Many people group things together, such as counting all socks as one item.

So the target is still kind of vague, and it will need to be more well-defined as the year goes on. I have some ideas about that, including the possibility of defining the goal as a certain total weight of all possessions, or perhaps a total volume, to measure portability. We’ll see.

I spend most of December living out of just a backpack as I jetted around the US, and I will be spending the next month in Iiving the same way as I wander by train around Italy. These experiences are giving me a really clear idea of exactly how little I need in life, and how much of this stuff I can live without.

When I get back home in mid-February, I will begin the process of selling off everything of value and throwing away what’s left, as well as searching for a the best way to define my target for success this year.

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2nd January
written by Randy

The very first thing on my list for 2011 is more travel. I had such an incredible time last year seeing all 48 of the continental United States. I came two states short of reaching my goal to visit all 50 (and I intend to finish up those last two this year!) but the experiences I had were really quite amazing.

I think travel provides me with the closest thing to a spiritual experience that I’ve personally ever known, and I plan to keep doing it for the rest of my life.

Now that I’ve seen the US, I want to see everything else… starting with Europe.

Saying you’ve visited a country can be sort of a cop-out. After all, I was in Germany on 4 separate occasions last year, but I never stepped outside of an aiport during any of those times. Sure, people spoke German, and I was in Germany, eating German food and spending euros… but it’s not the same. It doesn’t really count, does it?

Thus, I’ve decided to design this goal around visiting cities, rather than countries. There are a few things that make cities more a better goal for travel — or at least it’s better for my style of travel. Here are a few reasons:

You have to leave the airport to see the city! Sounds obvious, but how you frame an idea in your mind is important. Have I been in Germany? Yes. Have I seen Münich, Düsseldorf, or Frankfurt? No. You have to leave the airport to see the city.

Many countries have very different cultures in various regions. If the goal was to visit Germany, you could do the obvious thing and go to Berlin, but you would miss the lilt and personality of Köln, the Bavarian culture of Münich, etc. If the goal was to visit Spain, you could go to Barcelona, but you would miss everything that makes Madrid, Pamplona, and Valencia unique.

There are a lot of cities! If you were paying attention to the names in the previous paragraph, you noticed that there are a lot of things to see! France has Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille. Italy has Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence. Poland has Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw. And so on! There’s so much to see, why stop at just setting foot in the country?

So… my first goal for 2011 is to visit 20 European cities. It’s less than 50 states, but it’s much farther away, and more expensive to reach! I came really close to reaching my goal of 50 states, but in doing so I saw much more than 50 cities. So, I hope I’ll do that well with this goal.

As with any year-long goal, it’s easier to be successful if you get started early. And I’m getting started in just 10 days! As you may know, I spent last year learning Italian, and my reward is that this year I will visit Italy for 30 days!

On January 11th I will land in Rome, and then I will spend the next month wandering around Italy by train. I intend to visit Rome, Florence, Bologna, Venice, Milan, and whatever else I have time for, so the year is off to a good start!

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